The Rebirth of Retail

Shop Talk

Cyriac RoedingShoppers on smartphones are nothing new, but there's a growing possibility they're no longer simply talking or texting. An increasing number of consumers are relying on their mobile devices to check product availability, identify nearby bargains and read reviews, too. Fifty-nine percent of adult mobile subscribers in the U.S. said they planned to use their handsets for shopping and event organizing during the 2010 holiday season--up 25 percent from 2009--according to a consumer study published late last year by the Mobile Marketing Association and Luth Research. Respondents cited searching for local stores selling a desired gift item and comparing prices as their most common mobile behaviors.

"The fundamentals of commerce have not changed--I still want to buy the product I want at the price I want, it's got to be in stock and I want fast checkout and fast delivery," says Cathy Halligan, senior vice president of marketing and sales at PowerReviews, a San Francisco company that provides social commerce solutions (including customer reviews) to retailers and brands.

"What has changed is the access to information. We've seen a 500 percent year-over-year increase in consumers using mobile devices to access product information. They used to look for that information through the desktop, but that's very limiting. After all, you don't carry your PC with you to the supermarket," she says.

Brands large and small are capitalizing on the trend, rolling out applications designed to enhance the mobile shopping experience. Check these out:

  • Price Check by Amazon. This free comparison shopping tool enables iPhone users to check in-store product prices against items available on the web. Price Check gives consumers the option to scan a product barcode, snap a photo of the merchandise or speak/type its brand name to instantly receive prices from Amazon and rival online merchants. The app sorts prices from lowest to highest, incorporating Amazon shipping discounts when available. Price Check encompasses millions of products across a variety of categories, as well as mobile access to shopping features like customer reviews and product information sharing via Twitter, Facebook, text message or e-mail link.
  • Google Shopper. Available exclusively for smartphones running Google's own Android mobile operating system, Google Shopper lets consumers capture product information via their device camera. The application recognizes cover art on books, CDs, DVDs and video games, as well as most barcodes. In addition, users can speak the name of the product they're looking to purchase. In response, Google Shopper supplies product recommendations, pricing comparisons and identifies local stores where the item is in stock, complete with contact information and driving directions. The app also saves each user's search history, guaranteeing product and price information even when the Android device is out of network range.
  • NexTag Mobile. Online shopping comparison site NexTag offers mobile solutions for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry smartphones, touting features like price comparisons spanning thousands of merchants, image recognition-based search, seller ratings and a wish list that users can share with friends and family. NexTag Mobile also offers a full complement of GPS-enabled tools, giving consumers the option of mapping the distance from their ZIP code or current location to a local merchant selling a scanned product. --J.A.
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Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.

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This article was originally published in the March 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Rebirth of Retail.

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